To your average Aussie hot rodder, the name Airide is synonymous with ground scraping cool rides and bagged out beasts with full height flexibility at the flip of a switch. For over two decades, Airide Suspension Supplies have been the trusted go-to guys for the latest in air bagged suspension solutions with proven results. When most of us think about ‘bagging’ our next project or current cruiser, the popular solution is a kit offered by the Australian business without much thought of how the components are compiled… including myself!
With popularity of the much fancied mod exploding to include vehicles straight from the showroom, we thought it was time to take a tour of the Melbourne based company that was at the forefront of this alternative to traditional springs and shock absorbers.
Back in 1997, self-confessed gearhead and auto parts entrepreneur Glenn Rulach saw a niche market for custom installations of air bag suspension. At the time, he and wife Jules owned the Sunroof Centre, which offered motorists integrated sunroofs, car alarm systems and window tinting as part of their evolving specialist services and aftermarket upgrades.
After sourcing the best components and creating kits of his own design and handling their installation at the home workshop as a hobby, the air bag suspension business began to boom. In a relatively short time, air bag conversions increased from one or two per week to a full time gig.
Clearly something had to give and after the Sunroof Centre was sold, Airide moved into its own permanent premises at Bayswater. While the unprecedented growth squashed ideas of retirement any time soon, it also provided employment for eldest son Michael who became an integral part of the family business.
“I was working full time at home for five years, sometimes up to 15 hours a day. Then another five years at the shop before I left,” Michael explains.
With the business at full steam and tracking along nicely, Michael took a sidestep from his daily involvement to open his own venture, reverting back to traditional suspension practises.
“I split my time with my own business, Australian Suspension Supplies. My old man used to say there was no money in old suspension and that it’s too much of a headache, so I started it as a hobby to prove my point. Then it went haywire. Now we complement each other!”
“If a car owner gets air suspension from us and needs shocks we send them to Michael and vice versa,” adds Michael’s younger brother, David Rulach.
David is Glenn’s youngest son who began working at Airide after he completed his trade qualifications as a mechanic, and now runs the family business along with Buckley Thickett, Rhys Abernethy, Jules and shop dog Boyd.
“I left my job to come to the shop and concentrate on the installs,” David quips.
“He had to finish his trade first,” Jules reiterates. “David was in charge of all the installs back then.”
With business at peak performance and new kits and technology added to the evolving plethora of parts, tragedy struck as Glenn suffered a severe heart attack and passed away in the prime of his life. As Glenn was such a hands-on proprietor, his sudden death threw the business into internal turmoil and Jules was forced to deal with not only losing her best friend and husband, but take control of everything he had worked so hard to establish.
“As hard as it was losing Glenn, I knew it was not a possibility to close the shop, even though this would have been an easier option at the time. Glenn worked so hard to get his concept off the ground and there were numerous businesses out there that relied on us for their livelihoods. Also the boys were such an integral part of their Dad’s business, it was important for them to continue in their father’s footsteps.”
After a few months Jules took over the reins and navigated Airide through a bleak predicament to once again be the best in the business. Jules confides that it took two years of really hard work, seven days a week, sometimes day and night to achieve this. But after learning the ropes and aligning herself with trusted staff, the future is uplifting.
“That was five years ago,” Jules remarks. “As a result of back surgery, I now work from home but I know that the boys have it all under control, and I’m only a phone call or email away. We supply not only the hot rodder and modified car industry, but also a diverse variety of other sectors including farming, sporting fields, spray booths, and caravans and trailers with air bags with compressors and other components. The industry is always changing, so it’s important to keep up with new technology, and continue redesigning components for new cars such as the latest Mustangs and Camaros. Airide is the largest importer and supplier of custom air suspension in Australia. That’s where we were, and want to continue to stay.”
As I toured the Bayswater facility, I was astonished by how much is actually hand built in house. From raw materials to packaged goods on your door step, Airide is a one stop suspension shop that backs up their quality parts with experienced service to match.
“We offer kits for all vehicles both new and old, and fabricate most of the kits and components in house even right down to making the wiring and supplying the bolts needed for an easy installation. Take a 1959-1964 Chevrolet as example; we cut, weld, powder coat and assemble each bracket to suit the standard suspension. We can also combine other leading company’s components and incorporate them into our kits, such as the RideTech tube control arms for front and rear, Muscle bars, brake upgrades and the list goes on. For unique builds we offer universal builder kits so the customer can fabricate to suit,” explains David.
“When a customer calls the shop or comes in to our showroom, we work with them to see which air bag kit is going to suit their needs, whether the standard suspension is retained or a custom setup and what their budget is. A lot of people know how they want their car to look, but don’t know what they need or what is involved to achieve it. This is where our experience comes into it. Some vehicles are an easy bolt in kit, where some require more modification such as changing the front or rear ends and modifying the chassis.”
Holden fans have it easy in many cases, with complete bolt-in kits available for VE-VF Commodore and Holden HQ-WB, and relatively easy for someone that wants to install the kit themselves. Other vehicles such as ‘50s pickup for instance require more modifications to get the same amount of drop, and often a front end swap as the factory set up won’t allow the clearance for air bags. A popular option is a Series II or III Jag front end, which are fairly easy to air bag and allow a decent amount of drop. Typical rear end mods might include stepping up the rails or changing the standard leaf spring or swing arm setup to a four-link.
“Glenn helped design some of the computer systems that control the air bags to work the same way as factory components, adhering to the strict legal requirements,” adds Michael. “We go to America and ask the hard questions to suppliers like Accuair for our conditions and our cars, and they even learn from us.”